Monthly Archives: November 2019

Kalamazoo County Seeks Condemnation of Private Property in Prairie View Park

By Sue Moore

Hidden away in a corner of Prairie View Park in Schoolcraft Township is a family cottage that Kalamazoo County is attempting to acquire via condemnation. The family that owns the property fronting on Gourdneck Lake is fighting to keep it.

Family members have filed an injunction to stop the taking.

“How could they take this away from our family?” asks Judy Heeter, one of five sisters and two brothers who share tenants-in-common ownership. The small slice of hillside property on the lake has been in the family since 1949. It has been passed down through three generations who say they always intended to keep it in the family.

The Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners in a Sept. 3 closed session agreed to move forward on condemnation. That decision was placed on a consent calendar and approved in an open session at a board meeting the same day, setting up the family’s effort to fight for the property to the bitter end, according to Judy’s husband, Jim Heeter.

Prairie View Park is a hidden gem among Kalamazoo County parks. It sits on high ground on the south end of Gourdneck Lake contiguous to the state’s game area to the west, with access from U Avenue. There are two homes in between that have a lane back through the woods off of U Avenue.

The Johnson and Talanda families lack that easy access. Instead, their property, landlocked by the park, is accessed only from a park road which is the right of way to the property. Family members have keys to the park’s gates supplied through past negotiations with the county.

That goes back to a 1963 agreement struck with the county when Prairie View Park was acquired as parkland in 1960. The Johnson and Talanda families were the signees in 1963.

Development of the property for cottages can be traced back to 1922, when 27 lots were platted on the lake front, called Point Gloria. The rest of the acreage was farmland accessed from U Avenue. In 1949, when Ed and Dorothy Talanda bought the property that the cottage sits on now, they used it as a summer home and stayed there on their honeymoon.

Ed went off to medical school and subsequently needed help to pay the taxes on the property. The extended family of Johnsons and Stenders stepped in and set up a joint tenant agreement with full right of survivorship. That included the Stender family of the Vicksburg area. Now it is all owned by the five sisters, two brothers and their spouses in the Johnson family and the Talanda Trust.

The county contends that when the last survivor of those signing the 1963 agreement passed away, the land has to be sold to the county.

County officials declined comment on the matter. Parks and Recreation Director Dave Rachowicz said he could not comment since the issue was under litigation. The county’s corporate counsel did not return phone calls. John Gisler, the county commissioner, whose district includes the park, said he couldn’t comment and referred the family to Corporate Counsel Beth White.

“You can’t even put a dollar amount on the property as far as our family is concerned,” says Judy Heeter, one of the five sisters. “We would never sell. If any family member should want out of the agreement, they don’t get any money, they can just bow out and go their own way.”

“We all love it because it’s close. We live in Portage, so it’s very convenient. We have family reunions, celebrate birthdays together. All the cousins get to know each other because they can come out here and swim and play all summer long,” one of the sisters, Jayne Engels, says. “It’s one way to live on a lake and not break the bank.”

Engels claims they are very careful with the cars that come with guests to hang out in the summer. Since the slice of land will only hold about 10 cars, they do buy a yearly pass from the county so they can accommodate the whole family on special occasions.

Ed Sharp, park ranger for the county from 1973 to 2006 and a Vicksburg resident, remembers riding his horse back on the 208 acres of property as a teenager. His grandfather, Edwin Southworth, was the Brady Township supervisor in 1963 when the deal was struck with the Talanda and Johnson families. Southworth told the county Board of Supervisors, as it was called then, that the county didn’t need this piece of property for the park to be functional. A deal was struck in 1963.

“The Johnson family took care of the property and were easy to get along with,” Sharp says. “Not quite so for the Talanda family; they didn’t much like to abide by the rules. I had to kick people out all the time when they were having parties back there. I just had to enforce the rules and had to collect admittance fees at times.”

Engels says her family has been using the property for 57 years and there has never been one incident. “We’ve even signed a liability form. This house was made for kids. It’s not gorgeous. We come out and don’t have to clean up after everyone. We open in mid-May when the whole family comes out to put the dock in and close in October.”

Rick Blakeslee, a husband of one of the sisters, claims the county according to a 2016 budget spent $125,000 to run the park while taking in $85,000 in fees, thus losing approximately $40,000 per year according to the last budget from 2016 posted online.

The county’s $63,000 offer is based on the state equalized valuation for the property as of 1986, when the ownership changed from joint tenancy to tenants in common so they could pass it on to their heirs. The county officials say the terms of the 1963 agreement were violated.

“We have spent thousands of dollars to try and keep the property and we don’t plan on giving up,” Jim Heeter says.

Schoolcraft Votes to Move the Sewer Process Along

sch vc 6By Sue Moore

After several months of discussion, the Schoolcraft Village Council took another step toward deciding if it will build a sewage disposal system.

In a 6-1 vote, it approved a resolution asking the Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner to establish a drainage board to oversee the project. It was noted in an earlier discussion that the resolution does not commit the village to go ahead with the project. It could opt out at several steps along the way.

The lone no vote was cast by Trustee Todd Carlin.

Council members want to keep their options open while they seek more precise cost estimates for the project.

So the vote to go forward was a necessity. Schoolcraft, Brady and Pavilion Townships are also included in the formation of the drain board. Then it’s up to each government to determine which properties and businesses would be included in the cost analysis. Once that’s settled, Trustee John Stodola pointed out, the village will be able to apply for loans and grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), giving residents more precise information about costs. Schoolcraft Township has already passed the resolution.

The resolution provides for a public hearing for citizens to voice their opinions on the project and the special assessment district that it would create. This could take place at a village council meeting as early as November or December. Another council vote would be required to decide if it wishes to move ahead after the public hearing, still without knowing the final costs to each individual or business.

Consultants Wightman & Associates, under a contract with the South County Sewer and Water Authority, would then apply to USDA-Rural Development for a loan and any grants that might be available. That information might be forthcoming within 90 days of the application being filed, Wightman’s spokesperson indicates. Council members understand that an opt-out it still possible at this point of the process.

Resident Max Hutchinson told the council he had researched a proposed sewer project in Bloomingdale, Mich. The village took a similar route toward the sewer system, then opted out. The village was sued by Wightman to recover costs. Hutchinson said he had documents that showed the village and the consulting firm settled on a payment of $100,000.

That statement seemed to be the basis of Carlin’s no vote as he worried that Schoolcraft would be subject to a similar suit if it decided to stop the process at a future time. It was agreed to ask legal counsel for the details on this action by Wightman before the drain board is created.

Village President Keith Gunnett explained to a questioner from the audience that he couldn’t come up with a good answer to what kind of support would be needed from the state and federal government to move forward. “We just want to find out if we are eligible. We have looked at the numbers and know they are changing. We are trying to strike a balance on how big the project would be. If we [the village] are less wealthy, then maybe we can apply for more grants. The most vulnerable people have the most tools to utilize,” he said.

Trustee John Stodola cited the need to know the scale of the project. “When I sat out in the audience [as a private citizen] I was only thinking about my house and the cost. Now that I’m up here, I have to think about the whole village, the churches, the school, the people it affects.

“It all depends on how many people participate. There is a system for doing this. We need to take a vote to see if we want to proceed down this road. I move to go ahead.”

What Constitutes an Authority?

SCH VC 2By Sue Moore

What is the South County Sewer and Water Authority, an audience member asked the Schoolcraft Village Council members at its first meeting in October.

“It is the name of the organization that runs and monitors the sewer built around Indian Lake in Brady Township and Pickerel Lake in Pavilion Township,” Village President Keith Gunnett explained. “It was formed to build that sewer system over there. They get to set the rates for the users of the system. It has grown a bit since it was built. In 1998 they invited the village of Schoolcraft to participate in their meetings. In 2015 the Vicksburg joined the Authority. We don’t pay dues but we do have a vote on the board now.”

The Authority through Wightman & Associates has offered Schoolcraft three options if it wants to develop its own sewer system, Gunnett explained to the audience:

Option 1: Go through Portage to the Kalamazoo treatment plant. There are stumbling blocks along the way, Gunnett cautioned. Contracts would need to be negotiated with Portage and Kalamazoo. The sewer authority, which is only partially involved, has been in a lawsuit with the City of Kalamazoo for many years over the city’s rate structure. It still hasn’t been resolved.

Option 2: Go down US-131 with pipes laid down the highway and eventually connect to Kalamazoo’s waste treatment plant. This is probably the most expensive option because new pipe would need to be laid to run and tie into a main interceptor that goes into the plant.

Option 3: Own the treatment plant somewhere south of Schoolcraft that allows for setting our own destiny with costs and rates. It would be new and that is an advantage. The Kalamazoo waste water system is approaching 100 years old so will likely require more maintenance and upgrades in the future.

Bryan Campbell Retires as Schoolcraft Police Chief

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Schoolcraft Police chief, Bryan Campbell, gives his monthly report to the Village Council.

By Sue Moore

“I’ve always wanted to be a cop,” said Schoolcraft Police Chief Bryan Campbell, “ever since I was 11 years old.” Now he is retiring after 40 years in uniform, 25 of them with the St. Joseph County sheriff’s department, 14 1/2 in Schoolcraft.

The idea of becoming chief at the age of 45 intrigued him, Campbell said. He applied for the Schoolcraft job in 2002 when it first opened but he didn’t get it. “This was a troubled department and I thought I could be of some help. They let my predecessor go in 2005 and I applied again.” This time, village President Loren Warfield asked him to stay for five years and straighten things out. He’s been around a lot longer as he loves the job with every day expecting the unexpected. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

Lots of things have changed in policing since Campbell began at the age of 20 with the sheriff’s department. He rose to be a plain-clothes detective sergeant, doing criminal investigations. “In 1977 we didn’t wear bullet proof vests, you couldn’t even communicate with the state police on our radio channels and we didn’t have computers,” he observed.

“Now we do what is called community policing in Schoolcraft. In this small department in a small community you can get to know everyone. We cover sporting events where our officers can mingle with the spectators. The 4th of July is always a good chance to help people out. The staff includes Campbell, who usually works the day shift from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., two full-time officers who work 8 a.m.-8 p.m. shifts, and four part-time officers to ensure the village is covered at all times.

In all 40 years, Campbell has never had to use his gun. “I came closest two weeks after I started in Schoolcraft. I was called to a domestic violence scene when the male came out of the house with a gun. It was later discovered to be a replica gun,” Campbell explained.

What he has had to cover is lots of accidents and a few fatalities. There are 20,000 cars per day traveling through Schoolcraft, equaling 7 million or more per year. The speed limit is 35 but when a car or truck has been cruising at 70 on US 131 and then all of a sudden meets the 35 zone it feels to the driver like the car is just crawling. Most of the accidents are rear-end crashes where people just aren’t paying attention, he pointed out. The few fatalities have been troublesome to him. He was eating dinner at Bud’s Bar when a pedestrian was crossing Grand Street at the corner of Eliza and got hit by an 18-wheeler during the Christmas Walk event. “That was a tough one as you realize the impact of a death is difficult for everyone involved. Even one fatality is too much.”

There was a bank robbery in 2010 and a couple of other armed robberies since then. The village police often get called to help with accidents outside the village limits, especially on U Avenue and US-131. “We can get there long before the sheriff’s department but we need to be requested by the county or state police as we are not deputized. The South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority members are tremendous help. There is nothing better to watch than when their big fire truck pulls up and blocks the highway for us rather than trying to keep traffic contained with cones that we set out. They are a fantastic help,” he said.

“We have a mutual aide agreement with the Vicksburg village police department that is our best working relationship with another peacekeeping entity. They have come to our assistance 90 percent of the time when a second officer is needed on a call. We try to do the same for them too,” Campbell explained.

“My goal has been to make this the best police department in the county. To that end, I want us to be complete and follow up on any and all complaints.” He reports this out to the village council each month. Following are the complaint activities for the month of September that Campbell reported:

Total events: 197, total complaints 99, assist Vicksburg police 13, assist Kalamazoo County Sheriff 9, Ottawa County 1, assist South County Fire/EMS 6, vehicle crashes investigated 7, ordinance violations 7, traffic enforcement stops 65, tickets 13, warnings 22, arrest total 1, warrants 1.

Swimming is All in a Day’s Workout

shelly schafer swimmer crop
Shelly Schafer, 52 was the top female finisher at the 92nd annual Goguac Lake Swim in July. She resides at Indian Lake. Photo courtesy of Jason McMillan/for the Battle Creek Enquirer.

By Sue Moore

Ullrey Drive on Indian Lake is the home of a championship swimmer that few know about, according to Jon Kachniewiecz, Vicksburg High School’s long-time track and field coach. Shelly Schafer, his next-door neighbor, can be seen each day in the summer, no matter the kind of weather, setting out on her two- to three-mile swim through the waters of Indian Lake from the dock right next to his house.

She is usually accompanied by her husband, Jim in a kayak to insure her safety as she swims toward the cove at the south end of the lake. If boaters see Jim first, the fishermen or skiers will give both a little more space. She avoids the ski jump on the east side and doubles back to the west after the workout. “If I don’t get my swim in each day, I can get a little crabby,” she jokes as she explains how getting in the water makes her feel better and keeps her 50-something body in good shape.

Schafer happens to be an NCAA swim champ as a competitor at Hope College in distance swimming and even in high school at Battle Creek Lakeview High School. At 18, she beat the boys in the Goguac YMCA open water swim meet. This summer, she again won the race over 162 other competitors with a time of 26 minutes, 4 seconds for the 1.15 miles. “I was the first girl out of the water this year,” as she has been six other times in her race at Goguac Lake. She holds lots of records and many trophies but has them stashed away somewhere in her home on Indian Lake.

In real life she is a nurse practitioner in Bronson Hospital’s Neo-Natal unit full time. She also drives to the University of Michigan Hospital part time to work in their Neo-Natal unit each week. She manages about 50 babies on each shift along with a partner. They oversee all the care plans for babies in the unit. It is stressful but she feels being a part of saving these babies lives also makes her feel a little bit better. It’s a huge responsibility and she’s been doing it for 30 years now with no end in sight.

The move to the Indian Lake residence took place over five years ago when she and Jim were looking for a large lake where she could swim each day. They brought their two girls up in Portage where Jim is the swim coach for Portage Central and the head of the physical education department. She has been swimming since she was eight years old, competing with her older brothers who were swimmers. “I’m not so good at sprints as my muscles are more tuned to distances,” she admits. She swims all winter long inside at Bronson’s Athletic Club in between her hectic hospital schedule.

Schafer is adept at the repetitive nature of distance swimming. “It’s pace work. Each 100 yards is the same as before.“ She competes all over the state in the summer and even in a big race in Chicago in late August. The water temperature has to be around 71 degrees to be outside from Memorial Day to Labor Day. “The people on Indian Lake were not sure what to make of me when I first moved here. Now they are friendly and give me wide berth out on the water,” she says.

“I love the peace and quiet of the lake any time of the year. Even the nearby trains don’t bother me. We have great neighbors, respectful of each other with little get-togethers. They know when to be private and when to be social,” she says. “We like the small town feel of Vicksburg and the little things that we have been exposed to, such as Stubby’s and even the flooding on this part of the lake this summer. We had lots of turtles and fish in our yard but it’s all part of living on a lake.”

Veterinarian Book Written by Vicksburg’s Dr. Ron Smith

ron smithBy Sue Moore

Vicksburg’s Dr. Ron Smith will see the fourth edition of his book, “Veterinary Clinical Epidemiology, From Patient to Population,” published on November 5. It’s expected to sell several thousand copies and be a big success in the veterinary medicine field, according to his publisher in London.

CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group describes it as the most beautiful book it has ever published. That may be directly related to the cover art that Smith obtained depicting a collage of more than 60 domestic and wild animal species. The content describes how epidemiologic methods apply to questions directly relevant to the practice of medicine at the individual or herd or flock level.

Smith explains that the term epidemiology derives from three Greek words, defined more broadly as the study of disease in its natural habitat, away from the controlled environment of the laboratory. Epidemiologists ask questions such as how common a disease is, what are the risk factors, how accurate are diagnostic tests, what is the prognosis with and without treatment, and how can a disease be prevented in the first place. Outbreak investigations are much like a detective novel where the epidemiologist plays the role of a medical detective. Epidemiologic studies rely heavily on statistical methodology.

Smith’s professional career began as a veterinary medical student at Michigan State University (MSU) in the mid 1960s. He was especially interested in exotic animals, so he joined the Peace Corps soon after graduation and was sent to Ecuador, hoping to work with animals in the wild and gain credentials for an eventual job as a zoo veterinarian. Instead, he wound up working with livestock on local farms and chose to specialize in preventive medicine. After serving three years there he came back to the U.S., looking to study infectious blood diseases of animals. After receiving MS and PhD degrees, he joined the faculty of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana/Champaign. His research focused on a number of tick- and mosquito-borne blood diseases of domestic animals such as heartworm, Lyme disease, Texas cattle fever, and canine ehrlichiosis.

While lecturing in the classroom, Smith kept updating his class notes and as the years went by, his class notes became progressively more comprehensive. The representative of a publishing house suggested that he turn his lecture notes into a book. “I believed him but found it was a long way from being a good idea to a real book,” Smith said. That was in 1991 when the first edition of Veterinary Clinical Epidemiology appeared.

His fourth edition will be available as hard copy, paperback, and in Amazon Kindle format. Smith will be attending a meeting in Chicago November 2-5 where he will promote the book at the Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases, of which he is a member. Approximately 500 research scientists from around the world will be attending.

Smith’s wife, Lupe, and their daughter, Veronica, have opened a store front called the Village Works at 102 S Main Street in Vicksburg. His wife is from Ecuador and is a practicing artist, specializing in pottery and paintings that are sold in the shop and online. Their daughter makes and sells jewelry and graphic artwork. Both offer classes as well. Smith, a Vicksburg native, retired from the University of Illinois in 2005 after 32 years, serving as department head the last 3 years. He served six years on the village council and also gave four years of his time as treasurer of the Vicksburg Historical Society.

Book Deal for Hadley Moore’s Prize-Winning Writing

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Hadley Moore holds up her new book, Not Dead Yet.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg’s Hadley Moore rises at 3 a.m. each weekday to write for four hours. “It’s a bit of a compulsion. I’m happier if I’m writing than if I’m not,” she said. She then leaves for her day job, which she said helps to “keep the lights on.” For another eight hours, she is editing other people’s work.

For 10 years, off and on while working on other projects, she wrote a book called “Not Dead Yet and Other Stories,” which won Autumn House Press’s 2018 Fiction Prize. Out now, and available wherever books are sold, “Not Dead Yet” is a collection of nine short stories, all previously published in literary journals, about the vagaries of personal loss – undergone and anticipated. With humor and honesty about the more ignoble aspects of coping, it ranges in form and point of view to explore our existential reality.

The judge for the writing contest, Dana Johnson, praised Moore’s writing in her assessment: “What an astounding collection. The emotional depth and beauty of these stories is a wonder and puts this writer in a category all of her own. In “Not Dead Yet,” Moore takes readers on an emotional journey, insisting on illuminating our profound human connections and the mysteries of life. Her characters stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page and are penetrating reminders that life is full of endless chances, missed opportunities, and grace. Moore’s insight and compassion are the triumphs of this collection, signaling the arrival of a brilliant writer.”

“It’s hard to pick a favorite out of this group of short stories. Each could stand proudly on their own, ripe for conversation. I have no problem calling “Not Dead Yet” a must-read, as I finished it wanting to hug everyone I’ve ever met. And I think that’s a pretty good thing,” wrote Jaylynn Korrell for Independent Book Review.

Moore began her writing journey when she enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College near Asheville, North Carolina. She was 29 and had graduated years earlier from Kalamazoo College with a degree in psychology. The Warren Wilson MFA is a low-residency program in which students travel to the campus twice a year for 10 days and then work closely with a master writer and teacher during the intervening semester, in an apprenticeship-like setup.

Moore’s husband, Dusty Morris, is the middle and high school choir teacher at Vicksburg Community Schools and the first reader of her writing. “He gives me honest feedback. We met at Kalamazoo College when we both sang in the choir. My mom was an English teacher in Grand Rapids and Manistee, where I grew up. I don’t have hobbies but I read a lot, mostly literary fiction.”

Moore recently visited the Vicksburg Middle School Writers’ Club to read from her work and answer questions from Chris Laaksonen’s students. “The kids were in awe of the time she had invested in compiling the story collection – nearly 10 years,” Laaksonen said. “They were also intrigued by the whole publishing process, especially how she picked a cover from the mock-ups the publishing company had sent. Of course, the kids were especially tickled that Mr. Morris had been a big help in picking the cover that did end up on the published book. In addition to questions about her writing, the kids loved asking Hadley about her cats. And, of course, telling their own cat stories.”

“Before the meeting ended, students jumped at the chance to read their writing to a ‘real’ writer,” Laaksonen said. “She gave encouraging feedback and listened with genuine interest. Hadley was approachable and inspired students during our time together. She also shared her process as a writer and offered feedback to our middle school writers as they read their own creative writing.”

“Through Dusty’s Facebook posts, I learned that Hadley’s collection of short stories was being published. It was just released at the end of August, and Hadley has made a couple book tour appearances, including a talk at This Is A Bookstore [in Kalamazoo]. I texted Dusty and asked him if he thought Hadley would be willing to stop by after school to visit our Writing Club,” Laaksonen explained.

“The book is for an adult audience, but she was easily able to find an excerpt to read aloud to the students that held their interest. The small group of about 10 budding writers then asked her questions about the writing process. They were amazed to learn that the collection of stories had taken almost 10 years to complete and compile. They asked her about her most productive time to write, about how she chose the cover for her book, and what inspired her stories,” according to Laaksonen.

Moore is at work on a novel and another collection of stories. Visit her website: http://www.hadleymoore.net for more information on her writing and events.